Pregnant or breastfeeding women engaged in a professional activity as an employee or an apprentice are entitled to the following, depending on their circumstances:
- protection against dismissal (except for serious misconduct) as of the beginning of pregnancy;
- special health and safety protection if their role involves specific risks;
- protection against risks related to night work;
- exemption from work to allow them to attend their prenatal check-ups;
- several weeks of leave before and after the birth (maternity leave);
After the birth, mothers are also entitled to an adjustment of their working hours if they are breastfeeding.
The purpose of these measures is, on the one hand, to safeguard the health of the women concerned, and on the other hand, to allow them to devote themselves fully to their new-born child.
Who is concerned
Pregnant or breastfeeding women exercising a profession subject to sickness insurance are entitled to special measures regarding the performance of their employment contract and the adjustment of their working conditions.
- women with an employment contract;
- women with an apprenticeship contract.
Pregnant women may, from the early stages of pregnancy, submit to their employer a medical certificate stating the expected delivery date so that they may benefit as early as possible from the various protective measures to which their pregnancy entitles them.
However, in order to be entitled to the maternity leave, they must also submit a medical certificate stating the expected delivery date to their employer during the final 12 weeks of the pregnancy. This certificate must also be submitted to the National Health Fund (CNS) within the same period of time.
If the pregnant woman wishes to benefit from parental leave following the birth, she must file an application for parental leave 2 months before the start of her maternity leave, at the latest.
How to proceed
Notifying the employer and the CNS of the pregnancy
Pregnant employees must inform their employer of their pregnancy by submitting, within the required time frame, a medical certificate:
- by registered post with acknowledgement of receipt; or
- in person, in which case the employer must acknowledge receipt on the copy of the certificate; or
- by fax or email, provided the certificate is transmitted clearly and legibly.
In order to prevent potential work-related risks during pregnancy, it is preferable to inform the employer of the pregnancy as early as possible so that adjustments to or a change in workplace can be organised, if needed.
A pregnant employee's application for maternity leave is made by sending the CNS a medical certificate stating the expected delivery date, within the final 12 weeks of pregnancy.
If the employer has granted the employee an exemption from work on account of her pregnancy, the employee must send the CNS:
- the favourable opinion issued by the occupational health practitioner, along with a copy of the employer's request for the medical opinion;
- a medical certificate stating the expected delivery date.
Pregnant women are under no obligation to inform a potential employer that they are pregnant if asked during a job interview.
Protection of pregnant women against dismissal
Dismissal before the employee has informed her employer of her pregnancy
If a pregnant employee's employment contract is terminated before the pregnancy has been medically certified, the employee has 8 days from the date of being informed of her dismissal to prove her pregnancy by producing a medical certificate, sent by registered letter.
The employer must then cancel the dismissal, with the employee's consent. If the employer refuses to cancel the dismissal, the employee has 15 days following the termination of the contract to file a claim with the labour tribunal to have the dismissal declared null and void.
If the pregnant employee does not file a claim to have her dismissal declared null and void within 15 days, she may still file a lawsuit for unfair dismissal, seeking damages and interest from her former employer on those grounds. It should be noted that these 2 courses of action are alternative, rather than cumulative, options.
If the employer terminates the employment contract before receiving the medical certificate attesting to the pregnancy, the employee has 8 days from receiving notification of dismissal to prove her pregnancy by means of a medical certificate, sent by registered letter (if she has not already sent it).
Protection during a trial period
A pregnant employee's employment contract may not be terminated during a trial period if employer has been duly informed of the pregnancy.
The trial period provided for in a permanent employment contract is suspended from the date of submission of the medical certificate attesting to the pregnancy until the beginning of the maternity leave.
The portion of the trial period remaining to be served shall resume at the end of the period of protection against dismissal (i.e. 12 weeks after the birth).
In the case of a fixed-term employment contract, there is no suspension of the trial period nor extension of the fixed-term contract, which expires normally at the end of the initial term.
Protection after the trial period
Pregnant women who have duly informed their employer of their pregnancy, with medical proof, may not:
- be summoned to a pre-dismissal interview;
- have their employment contracts terminated by the employer.
This protection from dismissal is valid throughout the pregnancy and until the end of the maternity leave (12 weeks after birth).
Any dismissal or summons to a pre-dismissal interview occurring once the employer has been duly informed of the employee's pregnancy is legally null and void.
Dismissal for serious misconduct
In the event of serious misconduct, employers may suspend the employee with immediate effect, but they may not send the employee a formal letter of dismissal.
The employer must then file a request with the Labour tribunal for authorisation to terminate the employment contract. The tribunal will assess the gravity of the misconduct and decide whether or not to validate the immediate suspension and thus terminate the employee's contract.
Serious misconduct is any act or serious fault which immediately and irreparably renders it impossible to maintain a working relationship.
The employee may apply to the president of the Labour tribunal within 15 days of notification of suspension for a ruling on the maintenance or suspension of pay, pending final resolution of the dispute.
In the event of irregular dismissal without a suspension, occurring in the conditions mentioned above, the president of the tribunal will order the pregnant employee's reinstatement.
Cessation of business by the employer
If the employer has ceased trading, the termination of a pregnant or breastfeeding employee's employment contract will not be declared null and void.
Indeed, in the event of total and definitive closure of the business, the employer is authorised to dismiss pregnant and breastfeeding women in spite of their special status.
Adjustment of working conditions for the benefit of pregnant or breastfeeding women
Pregnant women are also entitled to an exemption from work, without loss of pay, to attend prenatal exams when they inevitably take place during working hours.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women are not obliged to work overtime (i.e. any work beyond the daily and weekly limits of normal working hours) if they do not wish to do so.
Activities posing a danger to health and safety
Certain activities are likely to pose a specific risk of exposure to chemical substances, processes or working conditions that are potentially hazardous for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Employers are required to disclose to their pregnant or breastfeeding employees a list of activities which may be harmful to their health and safety.
Furthermore, employers are obliged to evaluate the occupational risks and, if need be, upon the advice of the occupational health practitioner, take any and all necessary measures to prevent pregnant or breastfeeding women from being exposed to these risks.
These activities are divided into 2 categories:
- Category 1: activities likely to present a risk of exposure to certain substances, processes or working conditions. Category 1 activities may include:
- tasks such as lifting loads of over 5 kg;
- tasks involving a risk of falling or slipping;
- tasks requiring the employee to constantly be in a crouched or bent position.
- work taking place in a high atmospheric pressure environment (e.g. pressure chambers, underwater diving, etc.);
- underground mining and related work.
- Category 2: activities entailing a risk of exposure to certain substances or working conditions likely to endanger employees' health and safety. Category 2 activities may include:
- tasks which bring the woman into contact with chemical substances such as lead, mercury, strong acids used in the manufacture of isopropyl alcohol, auramine, formaldehyde, hydrocarbons or other toxic or carcinogenic substances;
- tasks entailing a risk of exposure to biological agents such as toxoplasma or the rubella virus.
For jobs falling into Category 1, employers are required to carry out an assessment of the nature, level and duration of exposure inherent in the activity, to determine whether or not the woman would jeopardise her health by continuing to do the job, and whether it could impact on her pregnancy or breastfeeding.
This assessment must be carried out in collaboration with the competent occupational health practitioner. If a genuine risk is found to exist, employers are required, on the advice of the competent occupational health practitioner, to:
- make a temporary adjustment to the woman's job (in terms of her working conditions or her working time) to eliminate the risk;
- if an adjustment is technically or objectively impossible, reassign her to a different job on the same salary as before;
- or, if such a transfer is technically or objectively impossible, exempt the employee from work for the entire duration for which her health and safety are at an elevated risk, according to the occupational health practitioner.
For jobs falling into Category 2, protective measures must be put in place if there is even a credible risk of exposure to these tasks. If such a risk is found to exist, employers are required, after having sought the advice of the occupational health practitioner, to:
- either reassign the employee to a different job on the same salary as before;
- or, if such a transfer is technically or objectively impossible, exempt the employee from work for the entire duration for which her health and safety are at an elevated risk.
None of these protective measures can entail any loss of remuneration for the employee concerned.
Should the employee be exempted from work, her salary is no longer paid by the employer. Upon receipt of the favourable opinion issued by the competent occupational health practitioner, the CNS pays the employee an indemnity in an amount equivalent to her salary, subject to presentation of:
- the occupational health practitioner's original opinion (pink sheet);
- a copy of the employer's request for an opinion;
- a copy of the medical certificate stating the expected date of delivery.
A pregnant or breastfeeding woman cannot be forced to work at night (i.e. between 22.00 and 6.00) if, in the opinion of the competent occupational physician, doing so would jeopardise her health or safety.
For a woman who is breastfeeding her child, that exemption may be extended until the child's first birthday.
To benefit from this arrangement and be transferred to a daytime shift, the pregnant or breastfeeding woman must file a request with her employer, using the "request for exemption from night work owing to pregnancy or breastfeeding" form template:
- either by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt;
- or by having the employer sign a copy of the request as proof of receipt.
The employer is obliged to forward the employee's request to the occupational health practitioner of the competent occupational health service within 8 days of receiving this letter:
- Multi-Sector Occupational Health Service;
- Occupational Health Service for Industry;
- Occupational Health Association for the Financial Sector.
Within 15 days of receiving the documents, the occupational health practitioner notifies the employee and the employer of their opinion.
If the occupational health practitioner is of the opinion that an exemption from night work is necessary, the employer is required to:
- either transfer the pregnant or breastfeeding woman to a daytime shift;
- or, if a transfer to a daytime shift is not technically or objectively possible, the employer, with the assent of the occupational physician, is obliged to exempt the employee from work for the entire period necessary to safeguard her health and safety. This duration of the exemption period is determined by the occupational health practitioner.
In the event of a transfer to a day shift, the woman continues to receive her normal salary.
In the event of an exemption from work, the employee no longer receives her salary but instead an equivalent indemnity paid by the CNS.
Women who are breastfeeding their child are also entitled, at their request, to two 45-minute breastfeeding breaks: one at the start of the workday, and one at the end.
If the work day is broken up by a single 1-hour break, or if the mother is unable to breastfeed her baby near to her workplace, the two 45-minute breaks may be combined into a single breastfeeding session of at least 90 minutes.
Breastfeeding time(s) must be counted as ordinary working hours.
Contesting the medical opinion of the occupational health practitioner
If she feels the the occupational health practitioner's opinion is incorrect, a pregnant or breastfeeding woman can submit a request for a re-examination by registered letter.
Such requests must be submitted to the National Health Directorate, Occupational Health Department, within 15 days of receiving notification of the occupational health practitioner's decision.
This avenue is open only with regard to opinions concerning:
- night work;
- assessments of the nature, level and duration of exposure to activities likely to present a danger of exposure to certain substances, processes or working conditions;
- adjustments to be made to the working environment to accommodate a pregnant or breastfeeding worker whose activity is likely to present a danger of exposure to certain substances, processes or working conditions.
The Chief Medical Officer at the National Health Directorate must respond within 15 days.
The woman may appeal the Chief Medical Officer's decision before the Social Security Arbitration Tribunal within 15 days of receiving notification of that decision.
The Head of the Arbitration Tribunal returns their decision within 15 days.
If no satisfactory solution is forthcoming, the decision of the Head of the Arbitration Tribunal may be appealed before the Higher Social Security Tribunal.
Forms / Online services
Modèle de demande d’exemption du travail de nuit pour cause de grossesse ou d’allaitement
Demande d'avis pour aménagement de poste, changement d'affectations, dispense de travail ou dispense de travail de nuit d'une salariés enceinte ou allaitante (à remplir par l'employeur) - Service de santé au travail multisectoriel (STM)
Modèle de demande visant à bénéficier d’un temps d’allaitement